Senator claims ‘lion’ Bill on legal services reform ended up as ‘little lamb’

Minister for Justice had 105 amendments for single page of legislation

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has been urged in the Seanad to withdraw the Legal Services Regulation Bill. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has been urged in the Seanad to withdraw the Legal Services Regulation Bill. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald could be a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records for 105 amendments she made to a single page of a Bill to reform legal services, it has been claimed.

Independent Senator Sean Barrett called on Ms Fitzgerald to withdraw the Legal Services Regulation Bill, describing it as “appalling” and “a shambles”. He said page 41 of the Bill had just 38 lines on it but it was amended by the Minister 105 times.

Final stages

Seanad leader Fine Gael Senator Maurice Cummins also criticised the Bill.

He said that in his time in the Upper House he had never seen 300 amendments being introduced in the final stages of legislation.

Fianna Fáil Senator Denis O’Donovan, a solicitor, said that as originally drafted by former minister Alan Shatter, the Bill was meant to be “a lion” in tackling difficulties in the legal profession and bringing it into the 21st century from the Victorian era. But “we have ended up with a little lamb”.

Complaints system

The Bill creates a regulatory authority and an independent complaints system.

Mr Barrett claimed that all the people implementing restrictive practices in the legal profession were being moved to work for the new authority.

“These are people in the Law Society and the Bar Council who refused to disclose their incomes,” he said, drawing a similarity with the IFA.

“We are telling them that they do not need to tell us their incomes and inviting them to work for the State and get State pensions as well.”

Shunted out

Mr Barrett said the barristers and solicitors controlling the Bill had “shunted out” the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform from the legislation, who has a job to ensure value for money.

This happened, he said, “because these people do not want to answer for their costs”.

Mr Cummins, who said that it was his job to facilitate Government legislation, was praised by Independent David Norris for refusing to guillotine the legislation or to continue until 4am or 5am yesterday morning, “despite the intentions and wishes of the Minister”.

The Seanad was adjourned at midnight on Tuesday after repeated votes and the legislation was expected to be passed late last night.